By Barbara D. Ritchie

Barbara D. Ritchie and Phelp Creek's Bob Morus.

Bob Morus, a professional Boeing 777 pilot, was the first to recognize the potential of Oregon’s Hood River as a wine growing area. Until he moved there from Chicago in 1989, the region was known for its fruit orchards. He bought property with south facing slopes whose elevations of over 1,000 feet (higher than the nearby wine region of Willamette Valley) made for very steep inclines. Its volcanic loam and clay soil proved ideal for stressing the vines of the Burgundian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varietals which he planted in 1990. Over the next decade, he sold his fruit to some of Oregon’s best wineries, including King Estate and Ponzi Vineyards. In 2000 he decided to make wines under his own labels, Phelps Creek Vineyards and its parent company Mt. Defiance Wine Company, opening his tasting room at the adjacent Hood River Golf Course.

His first winemaker was highly respected Peter Rosback, who had purchased grapes from Morus for his own Oregon winery, Sineann. His current winemaking team consists of Rick Cushman, a well known winemaker from the Willamette valley who joined in 2006 and oversees the Estate Reserve Pinot Noir line. Alexandrine Roy, a 4th generation winemaker based in Burgundy’s Gevrey-Chambertin region in France, joined as a winemaking consultant in 2010 and is responsible for the Cuvee Alexandrine label.

Mount Defiance Wine Company produces his entry level wines Hellfire (white blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc) and Brimstone (red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah). Morus named these after Billy Sunday, a professional baseball player turned preacher who railed against alcohol during the Prohibition and retired to the Hood River region. Grapes for both blends are sourced from local growers.

2008 Hellfire White Blend Columbia Gorge (13.4%; $21.00) has 31% Pinot Gris, 24% each of Chardonnay (barrel ferment) and Riesling, 14% Gewurztraminer and 7% Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. Approachable and refreshing with bright acidity, it shows citrus and Granny Smith apple flavours with melon notes and touches of acacia honey.

3.5 apples out of 5

2009 Phelps Creek Oak Ridge Gewurztraminer Columbia Gorge (14.4%; $24.57) is sourced from local 25-30 year old vines. An excellent example of this varietal, it is aromatic and perfumed with spice, honey and raisin notes that would pair well with Asian cuisine. Phelps Creek Unoaked Chardonnay Columbia Gorge 2009 (14.1%; $24.62) has concentrated flavours of apple, pear and hints of mango with a flinty aspect in the finish.
4 apples out of 5

2009 Phelps Creek Estate Reserve Chardonnay Columbia Gorge (14.15%; $34.06) was 100% barrel fermented and 20% new oak aged. Its smoky character underlies the round flavours of pear and fig with apple notes in this medium bodied, delicious wine.
4 apples out of 5

2009 Phelps Creek Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge (13.5%; $34.06) is made from 60% estate grown grapes and 40% sourced from three high elevation vineyards. Earthy notes, with spice, cigar box and tobacco notes come through in this appealing wine.
5 apples out of 5

2009 Phelps Creek Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge (13.5%; $49.71) is made from low yielding 19-year old estate vines aged in 71% new oak. It shows intense red fruit flavours, with sandalwood, violets and animal notes that ends with a well balanced, silky finish.
5 apples out of 5

For more information, contact agent Malcolm Cocks of Glen Ward Wines (416-347-5428; [email protected]).

Barbara D. Ritchie is a wine writer, lecturer and internationally accredited wine judge, who has travelled extensively throughout the main wine growing regions of the world. Her working knowledge of French, Italian, Spanish and German facilitates her in-depth winery profiles. A distinctive aspect to writing is her suggestions for food and wine pairings.

Barbara has judged at the California State Wine Fair, Ontario Wine Awards, Toronto Wine & Cheese Show, Santa Cruz Mountain Wines, Ontario Fruit Wines and George Brown Culinary College. Barbara has also been on the judging panel at Italy’s prestigious Banco d’Assaggio.